Presidential Electoral Tribunal: What happens to a protest?

The Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) will be playing a critical role in the election protest that involves the vice presidency.

Former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr lodged his protest against Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo on June 29, a day before Robredo took her oath of office. (EXPLAINER: Prospects of electoral protest after VP canvassing).

Still pending at the PET, the electoral protest also marks the 3rd time in history that the vice presidency is at stake.

The PET is the sole arbiter of all contests "relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice President of the Philippines." The Supreme Court sits as the PET.

All rules concerning an election protest filed before the PET are governed by Administrative Matter (A.M.) No. 10-4-29-SC of the Supreme Court, or the 2010 Rules of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

Filing an election protest

Only the candidate for president or vice president who placed 2nd or 3rd in the polls may contest the results before the PET within 30 days after the proclamation of the winning candidate.

The protest should contain, among others, the total number of precincts being covered, the location of these precincts, and the votes obtained in each by both protestant and protestee/respondent, as well as the details of the alleged electoral fraud, anomaly or irregularity.

Meanwhile, through a quo warranto petition, any registered voter who has voted in the election being questioned may contest the president's or vice president's victory "on the grounds of ineligibility or disloyalty to the Republic of the Philippines" within 10 days after the proclamation of the winner.

The respondent is given 10 days to file an answer, with an option to include a counter-protest. The protestant has 10 days to respond to the counter-protest.

Initial proceedings

Where the protest so warrants, the PET can issue a precautionary protection order to secure the relevant ballot boxes and their contents, voters' lists, other election paraphernalia, and data storage devices containing poll results.

After the submission of final pleadings by either camp, the PET calls for a preliminary conference, where the simplification of issues, the limitation on the number of witnesses, and a schedule for the prompt disposition of the case, among others, will be considered. Both camps are required to submit a preliminary conference brief containing these information.

The PET then issues a preliminary conference order to set the proceedings in motion.

Rule 65 says that either camp may be required to present at most 3 provinces "best exemplifying the frauds or irregularities alleged in [the] petition."

If the protestant or protestee can make out their case in these 3 provinces, the protest or counter-protest prospers. Otherwise, it could be dismissed, without further consideration of the other areas mentioned in the protest. (RELATED: EXPLAINER: Prospects of electoral protest after VP canvassing)

Revision, technical examination

The revision of votes will start as scheduled in the preliminary conference order. At this stage, concerned ballot boxes will be opened and the votes on ballots are recounted and tallied.

Revision committees will be formed for the continuous revision of votes, in the presence of representatives of both parties. The revision is done through the use of vote-counting machines – or manually and visually – as the PET may determine.

Within 5 days after the revision is completed, either party may move for a technical examination, where the authenticity of the ballots or election returns is verified.

From hearings to decision

The evidence will then be received by a hearing commissioner or commissioners designated by the tribunal. The hearing commissioner/s should be a lawyer/s.

After all the hearings, both camps must file memoranda to the PET for their final arguments and refutations. The PET then finally votes and issues a decision.

Costs

A filing fee of P100,000 should be paid for a protest, counter-protest, or quo warranto petition to be deemed filed.

Both camps are also required to make a cash deposit. If no ballot boxes or documents are involved, the cash deposit amounts to P20,000. Otherwise, the cash deposit should be equal to P500 per precinct being protested.

If the total deposit is less than P200,000, the payment must be made within 10 days after the filing of the protest or counter-protest. If not, an initial deposit of at least P200,000 must be paid also within 10 days, with the remainder paid in installments as may be required.

The technical examination of election documents, if requested, is conducted at the expense of the movant or requestor, according to Rule 47.

Duration of protests

If previous protests are an indication, cases filed before the PET take a long time to be resolved.

"Medyo matagal 'yung process ng PET. Masalimuot dahil may revision 'yan (The process in PET is somewhat lengthy. It's tedious because of the revision of votes)," said election lawyer Rona Caritos of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente).

Meanwhile, former chief justice Artemio Panganiban, in an opinion piece in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said that the revision of votes in Marcos' protest "may take at least 2 years" while Robredo's counter-protest "may require at least one more year."

In the normal course, he said, "it will take a few more years of hard work before we see light in the case."

There have only been 4 election protests since 1992. None, so far, has resulted in the reversal of results for president or vice president. On average, it took close to 4 years for these protests to be resolved.

In the case of the election protest against Robredo, the Marcos camp said they have no intention of delaying the proceedings.

"There is no reason for us to foot-drag, because it is in our best interest to have everything – the pleadings, the motions, the manifestations – to be resolved at the soonest possible time,"said Vic Rodriguez, lawyer and spokesperson of ex-senator Marcos.

"We're looking at 6 months to one year. As soon as there's a preliminary conference, a set of [hearing] commissioners would be constituted."

Rappler sought the side of the lawyers of Robredo, but has yet to receive a response.

Previously, the Robredo camp urged the public "to be more vigilant about any extralegal movements during this dark time in our history," following rumors that there would be "a new Vice President" by early 2017.

Robredo also said she continues to have faith in the SC, sitting as the PET, that it would be fair in handling the election protest, despite its ruling in November that allowed the burial of Marcos' father, former president Ferdinand Marcos, at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.

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